Archives For May 2010

Today being Memorial Day here in the U.S. I thought I would spend this post mourning all the children of God who have died in the world’s wars. This includes both the soldiers and those innocent civilians called “collateral damage” by the military complexes. Unfortunately wars and killing have been a fact of life for all of our existence. But this killing each other complex did not come from Jesus. He made it clear that we are to love even our enemies. I totally mourn all the times that people have rushed to war instead of trying all the other possible alternatives.

We seem to constantly send our young men and woman to the killing fields whenever our governments disagree with each other. It is also so strange to me that we  write much of our history around the wars we have engaged in. We seem to celebrate them instead of mourn them for their abject failure and the loss of human life that occurred. Every person who has ever lived on this earth has been totally loved by God. Whenever a life is extinguished God also mourns.

We humans just can’t seem to get our hands wrapped around the idea of alternatives to going to war with each other. To that end every generation has invented machines that make the killing easier. Shame on us. Lord bless all those  millions and millions whom have lost their lives during the wars of our country and the rest of the world.

Ok, I have probably spent too much time lately looking at the differences between us Christians and not enough time with personal revelation around the red letters. To ameliorate this condition I will try to spend more time reflecting on particular words of Jesus and what they mean to me. Of course along the way I will also have many questions. Some, given my current relation ship with Christ, I will be able to answer but many I will probably have to leave as a question. Let’s get at it.

Let’s start with Jesus talking about dying for our sins.

Matt 26:26-29

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom. 

Of course the last supper is the most obvious place where Jesus says he will pour out his blood for the forgiveness of sins. He mentioned dying for our sins shortly after Easter.

Luke24:45-47

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scripture and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”  

I think it was up to the early theologians to put down reasons why Jesus had to die. But Jesus did make it clear, at least in these verses, that one of the reasons he came was to die for our sins. But we must also remember how Jesus opened his three year ministry with the following words.

Luke 4:16-21

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoner and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

He came to die for our sins but he also came to show us how to live.

Pentecost2

Yesterday being Pentecost, and the fact that I just finished posting a series on the Holy Spirit, it is on my mind. After again reading the dramatic account of the Holy Spirit coming to the apostles and others in that closed and hidden room I had a serious question suddenly pop into my mind.  Are we ignoring our small messages from the Holy Spirit and therefore also keeping the big ones from occurring in our lives? 

I don’t expect that the Holy Spirit uses the flaming heads much anymore but I do believe that he come to each of us in varying degrees throughout our lives.  Like most things we need to take baby steps before we can leap. Holy Spirit baby steps are those times in our lives when the Holy Spirit nudges us in one direction or another.  After recognizing enough baby steps I think we graduate on to more significant messages.

If we are ignoring those baby nudges are we preventing the Holy Spirit from leading us into the knowledge that we were not yet ready to hear before that time?  I think for many that might be the case. Some say that when we are baptized as children the Holy Spirit comes into our lives.  That might be true but I am certain that is not the only time he is with us.  By failing to recognize the fact of his continual presence maybe our baptism rituals are actually getting in the way of our growth as disciples of Christ??

Some say the “real” baptisms of the Holy Spirit come throughout our time on earth. By seemingly putting all the power on the first one we might actually be preventing recognizing and acting on  the others.  Just some thoughts that suddenly occurred to me today.

Come Holy Spirit, come……

Give them Jesus

May 20, 2010 — Leave a comment

There are thousands of different concepts and ideas floating around in Christianity and most of them have followers who have split from others over their specific views. Of course the biggest split started when a lowly monk decided he knew better than the Pope what God was really about. There are those who have split off other denominations because they believe that total immersion is the only way to receive a “correct” baptism and, of course there are those who choose different views of the Bible. Some say every word is literally true and some say only the doctrinal messages are true. There are literally hundreds of other excuses we Christians have used to divide ourselves into different flocks.

While the people involved in all these 35,000 or so splits take very seriously the reasons they believe it was necessary to go their own ways. When I think about them the book title by Richard Carlson entitled “Don’t sweat the Small stuff (and it’s all small stuff)” comes to mind. The front and center for all of us who call ourselves Christians must be Jesus Christ; everything else is just small stuff. I can hear some of your saying” NO that is not true. If you aren’t baptized correctly then you are going to hell!!” Or other such words. I hope some day we all realize how petty we have become over many of these issues.

I have spent the last several years studying perhaps a hundred books on theology. In that study I have basically found that for every thinkable concept of God there are many human versions of what that concept means. Things like the Trinity really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Whether God is three in one or just one really doesn’t matter much. God is God and can be whatever he chooses to be and in my mind what he chooses to be is a God of agape love.

One of the basic things that does matter is why Jesus came among us? This question also seems to have many answers for us. Most, but not all, Christians believe that he came to be an atoning sacrifice for our salvation. As I have mentioned a few times in the past I don’t really understand this concept but do accept it on faith. Some say he also came to teach us lessons on how to live our lives in the universe he created. I am definitely in that camp but there are quite a few who almost totally discount this aspect of Jesus’ life. They believe that Jesus’ sole purpose was to die for our sins and to point us to heaven and that anything else he did or said about living was at best irrelevant to the “real” issue. They are totally convinced that it is proper to jump from Jesus’ birth immediately to his death. Nothing in between has much significance. Calling anything God says or did irrelevant is a pretty risky thing to me! Of course, Calvinists are among this group but I think many other fundamentalist denominations join them. To shortchange Jesus’ teachings on how to live causes them, in my opinion, to lose out on understanding of who Jesus really was. I feel sorry for them in that regard.

Let’s not spend much of our day worrying about what God looks like and instead spend it concentrating on what Jesus said and did while he was among us. All the other stuff is just stuff that causes us confusion and gets in the way of this central message. Jesus opened his three year ministry with the following words:

Luke 4:16-21

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoner and recovery of sight for the blind,

to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

I would hope that all of us take at least these words to heart in calling ourselves disciples of Jesus Christ. But sadly that is not the case for some of us. So to end this, concentrate on Jesus and all the other minor details will resolve themselves.

In doing this study on the Holy Spirit I am not convinced that I really know how to envision him even now. To me it sounds like he dwells in each of us and always has but came into the theological forefront after Jesus bodily left us to go back to the Father. There are numerous instances of the “Spirit of God” talking to even the Old Testament writers. It is hard to think of the Holy Spirit as a being instead of just a spirit. I still imagine him as that little angel in movies that sometimes appears on peoples shoulders as they need to make a decision about something.

The idea of the Holy Spirit being equal with the Father and Son (i.e. the Trinity) was developed fairly late in Christian history. Given how little historical writings about the Holy Spirit there seems to be I can certainly understand this. One thing I did learn from this series of posts is that baptism is not as defined as I thought it was. It was made very clear to me from this study that water baptism is not what Jesus was talking about; he was clearly talking about radical life changes due to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Water baptism may symbolically cleanse us of our original sin but the baptism by the Holy Spirit is where it really matters. Some think they are one and the same, I just have doubts about that.

So, at least to me I cling to the words of Jesus where he told us he was sending a Holy Counselor. That is someone who will take his place in encouraging us to do good; rebuking us when we fail to do so; telling us things when we are ready to hear them; and keeping us constantly aware that while on the earth we are to follow Jesus in both what he said and did. That is, Jesus is to be our Lord as well as our Savior. The Holy Spirit is about those messages we receive from Jesus and the Father as we go about our daily living. The original apostles seemed to get almost daily messages from the Holy Spirit to guide them in the early church. I think that most of us modern day Christians have pretty much crowded him out of our thoughts and that seems to be a dreadful mistake. We must all learn again listen to what he is saying. In order to do that we must “Be Still and Know that He is God”. I have been studying a book by a Quaker minister on just how to quietly listen for God’s messages. I will likely be posting a review soon. In the mean time be still and listen for the messages. Don’t let the urgencies of today’s world crowd them out. They are there; it is just a matter of allowing them to get through to our overstressed minds and hearts.

But maybe in the end I have to align again with Quaker beliefs. The Trinity is pretty much a theology issue and is not really of that much importance. So, maybe I really shouldn’t be too concerned about it. God is God no matter what form he chooses to reveal himself to me. It is up to me to listen to what he says both in the Bible and through his personal messages.

This time we will be looking at the method and means the Holy Spirit uses to convey messages to us.

Acts 13:1-4

In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.  The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus.

Acts 15:24-29

We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements:You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.

Acts 16:6-7

Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.

Acts 20:22-24

“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.

I chose the above four reading to show that the Holy Spirit sends messages to us. This seemed like a routine thing to the apostles and other early Christians. The Holy Spirit seems to have directed them as to where to go and what to do when they get there. Do we get those kind of messages today if so do we really listen for them?

Another thing about messages from the Holy Spirit from earlier posts are that people back then seemed to know if they didn’t have the Holy Spirit. Peter and other asked if the new converts had received the Holy Spirit and they often said “No we haven’t but we have been baptized” or “No we have not been informed that there is a Holy Spirit”. They seemed so sure that they have not received him in their comments. How could they know that they don’t have something? That is strange to me.

At one particular moment in my life I think I did receive a clear and distinct message from the Holy Spirit. That moment brought me to tears. I wish I could report others like it but I can’t truthfully do that. I think I need some lessons in how to effectively listen. I am hoping to discover them in the days/weeks/years ahead. Come Holy Spirit come.

Lets continue with our study of the relationship between the Holy Spirit and baptism.

Acts 11:15-17

“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning.
Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?”

Here is another one:

Acts 19:1-5

While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied.

Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.

Ok, lets look at these two sets of verses about the Holy Spirit and baptism. Is Acts 19 talking about two forms of baptism here, John’s baptism of water and another in the name of the Holy Spirit/ Jesus? I can only make sense of this if that is so. It seems clear that baptism by water is of less significance compared to being baptized by the Holy Spirit. When Jesus said go and make disciples and baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit was he talking about water baptism or something else. Quakers believe that the baptism by the Holy Spirit comes to each of us in it’s own time and has little to do with the water part that John The Baptist instituted. John’s baptism was for repentance and the Holy Spirit’s baptism was to bring God into our hearts. Or I could say to release God from our hearts, where He has always been, and into our conscience so that we can live as the wants us to live.

Some say there are two types of Christians. Carnal Christians and Spiritual Christians. Carnal Christians are Christians in name only. They have been baptised but only with water. Spiritual Christians are those that have turned their body over to Jesus to do as he says. These are the Christians who have received the Holy Spirit. I don’t think I really agree with this premise but the concept behind it does have some validity.

This time we will look at the relationship between the Holy Spirit and Baptism. Are they one and the same?

Let’s start with Peter in Samaria.

Acts 8:14-19

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

These verses point out something I believe is very significant. That is being baptized with water is not the same thing as being filled with the Holy Spirit. Many Christians today believe that the two are the one and the same. These verses clearly say otherwise; at least in this instance. The people in Samaria had been baptized but did not have the Holy Spirit until Peter placed his hands on them. This display of bringing the Holy Spirit definitely had an effect on someone named Simon as he tried to buy the power for himself!

So, if the Holy Spirit does not automatically come to all those who are baptized what circumstance causes him to come to believers? Here is an instance where the Holy Spirit came to those who had not yet been baptized.

Acts 10:44-48

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

Besides for the baptism/Holy Spirit reversal these verses have other significant consequences. Early in Acts Peter received a message from God that he was to go among the Gentiles to give them the message of Jesus Christ. Up until that point I don’t think the Apostles really understood that Christianity was meant for both Jew and Gentile. Of course, it was later decided that Paul would be the one to go among the Gentiles and Peter was to pretty much stay among the Jews. So I guess God changed his mind as to who he would send. But that is another story. I have might have no biblical foundation for this belief but I think that receiving the Holy Spirit is what really makes a person a Christian and the baptism part it like a rite of initiation or a ritual as was typical of Jewish traditions at the time. I believe that the Jewish ceremonial aspects are the primary reason that Peter mentions water baptism after the Holy Spirit baptism.

 Let’s look at the book of Acts to try and understand just who the Holy Spirit is and what his purpose is. In our previous study, along with some confusion, we learned that the Holy Spirit is a being who Jesus referred to a “him” is not purely a spiritual presence. Ok, let’s go through some of the references to the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts. This time we will look at when the Holy Spirit came in a dramatic fashion

Acts 1:4-5

Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 

Of course these are the words of Jesus after his resurrection and he is referring to what we call today the Day of Pentecost. Jumping ahead for a few moments it was obvious that the apostles were very changed men after they received the Holy Spirit than they were before. You could say that the Holy Spirit finally gave them the incentive to loudly boast of the Lord. They obviously lacked this ability before the Pentecost.

Another thing worth noting about the above verse is that Jesus is somewhat minimizing the water baptism of John when comparing it to the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is one of the reasons that Quakers, as we studied a few posts ago, put all the emphasis on the baptism of the Holy Spirit and do not really celebrate water baptism as they believe that water baptism is more of a ceremonial event in line with other previous Jewish traditions than an actual sacrament . The sacrament comes from the Holy Spirit not from the water event.

Ok, lets move on to another reference in the first chapter of Acts:  

Acts 2:1-4

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

I believe that I get messages from the Holy Spirit but never in such a dramatic fashion! It is obvious from the accounts after this one that the Holy Spirit was a force to be accounted with. The difference in the apostles was almost night/day. I know the “speaking in tongues” part many give special meaning to. I am not going there with this post. Maybe I will address it later but not now as I think it would only dilute the conversation at this point.

Acts 4:31-35

After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. 

This is yet another bold demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power. When they were filled with the Holy Spirit it seems that selfishness was washed out of them and they were indeed their brothers keeper. What an awesome display of Christ like attitudes.

In these passages we have studied it seems that there was little doubt as to when the Holy Spirit came to them. He came with: violent winds, shaking houses, fire, and total selflessness. Why shouldn’t we expect the same today?